I know that titling a blog post like this is a little like yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Which is only illegal if it is yelled falsely…when there is no fire.
But…we have a fire. It’s in Haiti. It’s in Cambodia. It’s in Moldova. It’s in Canada. It’s in Mexico. It’s in the United States. You get the picture.
UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. That’s about 2 children per minute. When Bono talks about the AIDS crisis in Africa he says; “This is not a cause…it’s an emergency.” The trafficking and exploitation of children is not a cause…it’s an emergency.
I live with the daily tension between this sense of emergency, and the time required for thoughtful, effective, sustainable and committed solutions. Honestly…it keeps me awake at night.
This tension has intensified over the last 2 weeks as reports of child trafficking are coming out of Haiti. I have seen social media outlets light up with compassionate people reacting to this news and wanting to respond in some way. This thrills me and concerns me at the same time. I’m thrilled that the reality of child trafficking is landing on the radars of so many people and eliciting a gut-level repulsion as well as a desire to stop it. My concern is panic. Like yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater, panic rarely produces effective solutions. And at its worst, can be downright dangerous.
The reality is, this “emergency” didn’t begin with an earthquake. The spotlight on Haiti during this time has only illuminated a reality that has existed for a long time, not only in Haiti but in the rest of the world as well. It’s because of the earthquake that many of us are finally noticing. And it doesn’t just happen “over there.” It happens on our very own streets. Does it take an earthquake for us to notice?
In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison wrote; “On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.”
When faced with the insanity of child trafficking, we should feel this sense of urgency. If we don’t, something is wrong. How would I respond if this was MY child? The reality is…this IS someone’s child!
But at the same time, I am reminded of the words of a human rights advocate in Cambodia when she said to me “My advice to you in your work to end child trafficking… is to THINK. Don’t REACT. Be thoughtful in your approach to the issue you are dealing with so that you will be effective.” Often times we see something that we feel needs to be fixed, but instead of taking the time to really think through a response that could be effective and sustainable, we just react. She went on to explain that if we are not thoughtful…many times our reaction can cause more harm than good. In my opinion, vulnerable children deserve better than that.
And therein is the tension. While I am thinking, networking, strategizing…children are being sold and exploited.
I remember the first time I felt this tension. I was standing in a brothel with undercover investigators who were conducting an investigation of child trafficking in a brothel. I can tell you my gut-level reaction…as a human being…as a father of young daughters. I wanted to smash through the glass windows and get those kids out of there. I wanted to “take out” the predators standing in the room with me who were about to purchase these children.
But because we went in as part of an ongoing, undercover investigation of this particular brothel, we were unable to immediately respond. Evidence had to be collected in order to bring about a raid and eventually justice on those running the brothel. The goal was not only removing the children from the brothel, but also arresting, convicting and sentencing the exploiters, so they were stopped from exploiting more children. It is an immensely difficult problem when an immediate reaction cannot effectively address an emergency.
The truth is, tackling child trafficking and exploitation is complex and thus requires a multidisciplinary and thoughtful approach across religious, political, social and cultural boundaries. And that takes time. And yes…that sucks, when the clock is ticking and the lives of children are at stake.
Vulnerable children who are at risk for trafficking and exploitation, do not need a reaction based on panic, but instead… an aggressive, committed, thoughtful and sustainable response. Not only in Haiti, but everywhere else. Imagine what we could do, if we treated child trafficking as an emergency everywhere? And then don’t give up until it ends?
I think Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission says it well; “The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasm of passion; they need our long obedience in the same direction. They need our legs and lungs of endurance.”
Stay tuned for Emergency Part 2…Practical engagement…working together.
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